Are UW-Madison professors underpaid?

It’s well known that UW-Madison salaries are notably lower than those at peer institutions, at every level of seniority.  But wait, says Chris Rickert in the Wisconsin State Journal, that doesn’t necessarily mean our faculty is underpaid!

At UW-Madison, assistants are paid, on average, about $82,000 a year, associates about $93,000 and full professors about $123,000 — ranking them 10th, seventh and 12th, respectively, in salary compared to 11 other state-identified peer institutions, according to data from the university’s Academic Planning and Institutional Research office.

Obviously, more full professors means more people in line for full-professor salaries and greater pressure on the budget for professorial salaries overall. At UW-Madison, that’s no small detail, as about 59 percent of UW-Madison professors have attained full status, according to the university’s Data Digest.

By contrast, figures from the American Association of University Professors show that, on average, only about 31.5 percent profs at all universities and about 30.8 percent at public universities are full professors.

This is a really good point!  You could imagine that maybe our pay isn’t underscale at all — maybe we just promote people faster, so that our full professors are less senior and thus make less.  That’s Rickert’s take:

I’m left to wonder whether the university has adopted that old human resources trick of placating employees by inflating their titles more than their pay.

In an era of declining state support, this would help keep a lid on the cost of higher education while simultaneously allowing university officials to complain about how poorly paid are its best and brightest.

But this can actually be checked!  You can use the Chronicle of Higher Education Faculty Salary Survey to get the mean salary for any university at any seniority level, and the number of faculty members at each seniority level, and compute the overall faculty mean that way.  I did this for a few of our peer institutions and got:

full $145 816 $123 755 $135 494 $139 943
assoc $96 556 $93 252 $90 407 $94 763
asst $90 405 $82 363 $77 329 $85 502
$117,133 $106,618 $104,595 $111,172

So the mean UW tenure-track gets paid slightly more than people at Iowa, but notably less than counterparts at Ohio State and Illinois.


5 thoughts on “Are UW-Madison professors underpaid?

  1. Richard Séguin says:

    Are medical school salaries included in these means? Are there other departments with salaries significantly greater than the mean? What do the means look like if we exclude them?

  2. Using the general AAUP data for percentage of full professors and applying it to a research university is either ignorant or disingenuous.

    It’s much more common at more teaching-oriented institutions for people to never be promoted to full professor, because they never do the scholarship for that rank to be appropriate. (At the lowest tier liberal arts colleges, there will actually be some tenured assistant professors who retire as such.) It’s also more common for people to decide to go into another line of work after 5 or 10 years, hence never becoming a full professor. (Gee – making $45K a year teaching 5-5 to unmotivated undergrads with the intelligence and preparation of a rock, all while the administration is evaluating you based on whether 100% of them pass your class and saying, at least publicly, that of course their professors don’t have lower standards. I would love to keep that job for life!)

  3. JSE says:

    But I was just comparing Midwestern public research universities to each other; that’s OK, isn’t it?

  4. I wasn’t complaining about anything you did; I was complaining about what was written in the 3rd quoted paragraph.

    I doubt you promote people that much faster than other research universities – or at least that’s not the cause of the disparity in percentage of full professors mentioned. (It can’t be; even if you promoted people to full professor in 8 years instead of 15, you still wouldn’t have twice as high a percentage of full professors.)

  5. Ben Wieland says:

    Richard, the salary for a professor at a medical school is usually in line with the salaries for other fields. Of course, the professors also work for the same public institution as physicians, but that payment is often listed separately, if at all, perhaps because it is fee-for-service, not salary.

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